Last February, NASA launched its six-wheeled rover called Perseverance to Mars to explore the planet. On its 60th sol or Martian day of the mission, it conducted its first test to convert the carbon dioxide on Mars into oxygen. NASA’s Associate Administrator of Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), Jim Reuter, shared that the test is “a critical first step at converting carbon dioxide to oxygen on Mars.”
To help with this, Perseverance carries an instrument called Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilisation Experiment or MOXIE. This toaster-sized instrument was created in hopes of making Mars’ environment habitable for humans. Its goal is to produce oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide at 10 grams of oxygen per hour. In its first test, it was able to produce 5.37 grams of oxygen per hour, enough to keep an astronaut alive for five minutes.
Creating oxygen in Mars
The instrument has to fight the odds and “breathe like a tree.” The first test result was promising and would likely rise to its full potential of producing up to 10 grams of oxygen per hour. Whether it’s an astronaut or a rocket, “oxygen is key”, noted MOXIE’s principal investigator, Michael Hecht.
Also interesting: Use a moxie in the Mars simulation game ‘Surviving Mars’
The average daily requirement of oxygen per person is 0.84 kg, as published by NASA, to survive on Earth. Meanwhile, a reserve of 2.64 gallons of drinking water is required per person per day, and 0.43 gallons in space. While MOXIE has started to take care of the oxygen part for survival, the future Mars mission may focus on the drinking water reserve. Hetch adds, “astronauts who spend a year on the surface will maybe use one metric ton between them.” The sharing of one metric ton of oxygen is meant to happen between two astronauts.
In order to send four astronauts to Mars, 7 metric tons of rocket fuel and 25 metric tons of oxygen, would be needed. Instead of hauling oxygen from Earth to Mars for their future missions, MOXIE can separate oxygen atoms from carbon dioxide molecules and emits the waste, carbon monoxide, into the atmosphere. For this, a more powerful version could fulfill this requirement.
While this isn’t the first time that oxygen is being produced outside of Earth, the Director of Technology Demonstrations within STMD, Trudy Kortes, shared that MOXIE carries the first mission that has a long-term goal for missions to “live off the land”. This definitely provides a more economical way to provide oxygen for astronauts and one less thing to think about when they plan for long-haul missions.
YouTube: Crazy Engineering: Making Oxygen on Mars with MOXIE